Sunday, October 6, 2013

With Oregonians in Sulawesi

Continuing the Around the World posts, this is my first note from Sulawesi and dates from April 24, 2011.

In Indonesia I often get slept on.  I've mentioned that Indonesians are friendly and trusting, and that includes their sleep.  First, the buses are often crowded.  Yesterday I took a four hour ride on a minibus with nine seats.  There's no schedule, the bus just waits until enough people arrive to fill it—in this case sixteen passengers plus the driver.  Of the sixteen passengers, seven were little kids, and they squeezed themselves in on people's laps or on the floor or in between the two front seats.  If you want to get slept on by a bunch of ridiculously cute little kids, Indonesia is the place.  Two little girls fell asleep on me, one on my legs and one on my shoulder—although the one on my shoulder awoke with a start when she realized she was sleeping on a hairy giant.  But old people sleep on me too.  On one bus an old man slept on my shoulder and I in return slept on his head.

The most significant event in the past week is that I've been adopted by another family.  I shared what was probably the most miserable bus ride of my life—a thirteen hour drive through winding mountain passes—with a family from Oregon.  I’ve been suffering from Giardia or some such disease.  Tropical diseases are not a pleasant thing to have on a crowded Indonesian bus through the mountains, and make me dearly miss the Clean Water Act and the EPA.  To make it worse, the bus driver kept blasting terrible imitation American love ballad videos in the native Torajan language on a loop—no doubt the combined work of American evangelical missionaries and a blossoming tourism industry.  Molly and Barry, a painter and an engineer, and their daughter Helen, from Portland, sat behind me.  At some particularly winding point an old Indonesian woman near the front started to lose her lunch.  A communal puke bucket, brought aboard for just such a purpose, was passed forward and she wretched loudly over and over again.  Right behind me, Molly, feeling a bit car sick herself, puked into a plastic bag.  Never in my life have I thrown up on a vehicle, to my knowledge.  But the Giardia, the winding roads, the communal puking, and the awful music had their effect.  I turned around, borrowed Molly's bag, and donated what seemed like a half gallon from my own body.  A middle-aged Indonesian woman sitting next to me was visibly upset by this.  But she made fun of me for it later.  To add to it all, Helen was also suffering from a Giardia infection and she too threw up.  In the meantime at least one other Indonesian made use of the puke bucket.  It was another cartoonish moment—puking my brains out on a crowded bus, surrounded by other pukers, with that terrible, terrible music as the sound track.  Don't ever buy any product of Toraja Record.

But it was nice to get sick with fellow Americans and it was a bonding experience.  As an added bonus, at the end of the day I learned that Helen is a Marine—a 22 year old brand new 2nd Lieutenant!  Meeting an American here is a rare event, meeting a whole family even rarer, and meeting a fellow Marine a blessing.  I'm one of Helen's first post-OCS Marine experiences, and I wonder if I'm a good representative of the Marine Corps—a diseased idealist Sergeant, identifying organisms in one breath and reminiscing about Iraq in the next.  I've been traveling with the family ever since—they took care of me when the sickness was at its worst, loaned me money when I was trapped in a mountain town with no access to my bank accounts, and were just great traveling companions.

Despite the disease, Sulawesi is an all around fun place to be.  I've spent nearly the entire time in the mountains, which are cool and mosquito-free at night.  There are many languages, religions, and cultures, rickety rope bridges over swift rivers, and ancient ruins everywhere, all cloaked in misty mountain rain forest.  The Oregonians and I swam in clear mountain lakes, played in waterfalls, and went backpacking in Lore Lindu National Park.

Central Sulawesi is full of rocky mountain rivers, like Saluopa Falls near the town of Tentena

Locals don’t hesitate to cross the area’s narrow bridges by motorcycle

We hired a guide named Agus, a driver and a machete man/porter for the trip.  Our porter/machete man, Puli, has an active German-led archaeological dig in front of his house.   The expedition in many ways was a typical tropical adventure.  First we took a jeep through a nearly impassable mountain road to Bada Valley—an isolated place with 7,000 inhabitants, its own dialect, no access to internet or cell phone service, and mysterious undated ancient Polynesian monoliths scattered throughout the rice paddies.

Bada Valley is surrounded by the forested mountains of Lore Lindu National Park

The valley’s rice paddies are scattered with mysterious ancient megaliths.  Locals call this one “Palindo”—"the entertainer."

In Bada Valley we stayed at a rarely-used homestead.  In my room I found a tarantula eating a large roach on a leg of my bed.  Rarely do animals creep me out but I get a little queasy with roaches, and large spiders also make me a little uncomfortable.  So a giant tarantula eating a giant roach on my bed aroused some consternation.  Agus offered to kill it but I declined.  I knew it wouldn't hurt me and forced myself to sleep on the bed all the same.

This is usually the last thing I’d want to find in my bed—a giant tarantula eating a giant roach—but I slept in it anyway.

We spent a couple days of hard hiking up and down the steep forested mountainsides, and then celebrated with a generous feast in Puli's elegant dirt-floored rattan and bamboo house.

The Oregonians and I spent a couple days backpacking in Lore Lindu’s montane rainforest

Puli makes some tea at a break on the trail

Going east from Borneo I re-crossed Wallace’s Line, and Sulawesi’s forests are a mixture of Australian and Asian organisms.  I was excited to find this Eucalyptus in Lore Lindu at the western edge of its genus’ range.

Our descent out of the valley coincided with a massive deluge marking the start of the local rainy season.  We bounced along for four hours in the back of the tarp-covered jeep, driving straight through new waterfalls and over fresh landslides blocking the road, getting soaked as water poured through holes in the tarp.  That was another scene worth remembering—soaking wet, bouncing through water and mud, in the hands of a skilled barefoot driver in a baseball cap, perpetually puffing away on a cigarette as he maneuvered his way down the mountain.

We left Lore Lindu just as the rainy season started and flash floods swamped the road down from the mountains

Our driver managed to navigate the floods and fresh landslides to return us to Tentena

Our guide and general go-to guy was Agus, a local who spoke Pamona, Indonesian and great English.  He was good natured and became more of a friend than a guide.  One morning I awoke to find that during the night he had found an interesting ant and wrapped it in tissue paper so I could see it the next day.  On the last day he spent hours weaving bracelets from a rattan and a fern fiddlehead, using only a machete.  He gave one to me and one to Helen as parting gifts.

After our backpacking trip the Oregonians and I made our way to Ampana.  It’s a seaside town on the south shore of the giant bay that separates the northern arm of Sulawesi from the rest of the island.  One evening we took a short boat trip to Tanjung Api National Park, where cliffs catch on fire due to underground hot methane deposits.  We chartered a small motorized outrigger boat and snorkeled in the seagrass meadows and fringing coral reefs.  I got to experience animals I normally don't encounter, like seahorses, puffer fish, sea cucumbers, starfish, and corals.

Ampana lies on the Gulf of Tomini which separates Sulawesi’s northern and eastern peninsulas

Our boat to Tanjung Api—“Fire Point”—not only had a great name, but also had a nice chunk taken out of the front as if it had struck an iceberg or had a duel with Jaws.

Here I part ways with the Oregonians.  I have only a few days to somehow find a way to Manado in time to get my visa extended... it will be a close race.  Visa extension is a three day process but I hear you can rush the process through bribes, so that may give me a couple extra days to get there.

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